By Polly Dean
University of Georgia Ducks Unlimited was named the number one collegiate chapter in Georgia last year, and their Area Chairman, Jay Weldon, credits that to passion for the DU mission, and maintaining year-round committee relationships.
The agribusiness major, along with other members of the UGA student chapter, strive to stay in touch and active throughout the year, not just during duck season or event planning.
Weldon grew up in Loganville, Georgia and was introduced to Ducks Unlimited through the Greenwing program, attending his first event when he was four or five years old. The UGA senior grew up in a family that enjoys the outdoors, especially hunting and fishing. His older brother Tee was a member of the UGA chapter and Jay joined while a student at nearby Gainesville State College. His involvement grew when he transferred to UGA, eventually taking on the leadership role he holds today.
Weldon and other student chapter members' mission is to work as a team throughout the year. He says there was a time when the group was scattered and the only communication or gatherings occurred when it was time to plan an event.
"My goal was to come in and bring everybody together and make Ducks Unlimited a year-round deal," Weldon said. "We go home for the summer, but stay in touch and throw around ideas about things we like to do when we get back to school."
Last summer, the UGA Chapter attended the state convention in St. Simons Island to accept the award for becoming the leading collegiate chapter in Georgia. The award and event turned out to be a great motivator for the entire committee.
"My personal goal is to maintain the number one chapter in Georgia on the collegiate level, and also make the Sweet Sixteen, the top 16 chapters in the nation," Weldon said.
As part of their goal to remain active throughout the summer, members of the group attended Third Term: Ducks University Leadership Summit at the national headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee. Third Term allows representatives from various collegiate chapters from all over the country to come together to meet, share ideas, and expand their organization knowledge.
"We met with Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited. It was a neat experience to be able to spend time at headquarters, learn how the money is spent and how we're affecting Ducks Unlimited as a whole," Weldon said.
A goal of the chapter is to sponsor an event for youngsters, similar to the Greenwings programs which Weldon and other members experienced as a child. They hope to also reach children of University of Georgia alumni, introducing them to a project, such as building wood duck boxes while educating them about waterfowl conservation.
The student members recognize DU as a special organization in which many became involved as a child. They remained active as students in high school and college and will eventually move on to local chapters after graduation. "There are chapters wherever you go. They are all over the country, so wherever you end up and call home, you can always find a group that you have common interests with. That is very cool in my opinion," he said.
The students are educating themselves and furthering a shared passion for the principles behind DU, and beginning a legacy that will continue throughout their lives. "As students, we are figuring out now, how to raise money and to raise awareness for conservation. We can take that to adult chapters that are already established, and maybe even take an idea with us that we learned in college, and maybe it will work there as well. We're constantly brainstorming."
Sportsman's Night Out is a fall event sponsored by the group. The fundraiser features dinner, auction, and raffles. The committee modified the name of the function from, "Waterfowl Hunters Party" to the current Sportsman's Night Out to draw a broader range of outdoor enthusiasts.
To learn more about the University of Georgia chapter or any of their upcoming events, visit their Facebook page "Ducks Unlimited at University of Georgia" or contact Jay Weldon at (678) 859-3536.